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Madron Holy Well and Chapel

Introduction to site

Otherwise known as Boswarthan Chapel and Well.

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Madron Chapel and Holy Well are located in a small marshy valley, one of the tributaries of the Chyandour Brook, whose waters rise at the foot of Nine Maidens Common and drain south-east towards Mounts Bay. The surrounding ancient landscape, rich in evidence for prehistoric and medieval activity, has been greatly altered in recent times by farming and by the creation of parklands surrounding the nearby estate of Trengwainton.

The chapel and well is signposted as 'Boswarthan Celtic Chapel & Well' from the B3312 heading west out of Madron. There is a car park situated at the head of a footpath that leads to the site.

Refreshment facilities are located in the nearby village of Madron, and public toilets are located in Penzance.

There are bus services to the village of Madron, which is located approximately 1.5km from the site. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable travel options.

View our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.

The well and chapel are dedicated to the pre-Christian goddess Madern or Maddern, sometimes equated with the Celtic Dea Matrona, one of the many pagan goddesses associated with springs and wells. Medieval documents, however, suggest an affiliation with the male saint, Paternus, a 6th century Breton priest, a dedication shared by the local parish church. However, the place-name Landithy, associated with the farm next to the church, may suggest an alternative origin for the chapel as the Lann, or early Christian monastery, established by St Dithy which was subsequently appropriated by Madron when he consolidated his presence in this area.

Today the small stone chapel, minus its roof, has been restored and the benches which lined its interior survive as does the large altar stone, a massive slab of granite which has a small socket in it to receive a statue or portable altar. The corner font also survives and is still fed by the well a short distance to the south-west, although the channel is presently blocked by a stone.

The well is now a simple stone lined trough in the valley floor, but archaeological investigation and documentary sources suggest it may once have had a well house, perhaps a corbelled ‘bee-hive’ structure protecting it. There is still evidence for the system of leats and culverts which carried the well water to the village of Madron and the northern outskirts of Penzance as far as Causewayhead, but for many years the clear water was collected on foot by the local villagers. During the cold winter months or when conditions underfoot became too difficult, the holy well at nearby Nanceglos was used instead.

Madron Well is one of the most hallowed of Cornish well sites and has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries. Many holy wells are thought to have been the focus for pre-Christian rites and ceremonies, and even today the trees and bushes surrounding the well are festooned with rags, known as “clouties”, tied on as protection against evil, or to ensure good health and good fortune. Madron Well has a particular association with the Feast of Corpus Christi which may have earlier origins in Sun Worship. There are many stories of miracle cures at the well, such as the case witnessed by Bishop Hall in 1640 concerning John Trelil who was crippled as a young boy during a game of football when hit across the back by a young girl. He bathed repeatedly in the well waters and slept on St Maderne’s bed, a grassy hillock nearby. Following his cure this fortunate man joined the army only to be slain during the civil war at Lyme in 1644!